Cigarette butts are the single greatest source of ocean trash.

The No. 1 man-made contaminant in the world’s oceans is the small but ubiquitous cigarette butt — and it has mostly avoided regulation. That soon could change, if a group of committed activists has its way.

Cigarette butts have now also fallen into the sights of one of the nation’s biggest anti-smoking organizations, the Truth initiative. The organization uses funds from a legal settlement between state attorneys general and tobacco companies to deliver tough messages against smoking. The group last week used the nationally televised Video Music Awards to launch a new campaign against cigarette butts. As in a couple of previous ads delivered via social media, the organization is going after “the most littered item in the world.”

It’s no wonder that cigarette butts have drawn attention. The vast majority of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes manufactured worldwide each year come with filters made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that can take a decade or more to decompose. As many as two-thirds of those filters are dumped irresponsibly each year, according to Novotny, who founded the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.

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